OSLO, Norway – Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon shocked and disappointed his nation this summer when he announced plans to take his youngest prince and princess out of public schools and send them to private ones in the coming school year.
In egalitarian Norway, the choice for the further education of Princess Ingrid Alexandra, 10, and Prince Sverre Magnus, 8, seemed a denunciation of the education of the rest of the children in this wealthy nation of only 5 million. But while a fuss over moving royals from classes with common children might seem a non-issue in the non-royal United States, it actually gets at a single question about much of the remaining royalty of Europe: Why?
The fact that this happened the same summer that Spanish King Juan Carlos, he and his family dogged by scandal, abdicated the throne, meant that once again, in a post-“divine right” world, Europeans were asking themselves, exactly what is the point of having royalty these days? There was a pause, though brief, after the abdication when a few commentators and some politicians were wondering why Spain still has a royal family, before his son Felipe – Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbon y de Grecia – was soon named King Felipe VI, the new ruler of Spain.
Likewise, in Norway, where vast oil wealth has made many citizens feel as if they’re all born to privilege, opponents of a continuing royal tradition saw the minor scandal as a sign that their efforts might gain traction, someday.
As Norwegian journalist and author of a book on the local royalty Kjetil Bragli Alstadheim noted: “When Spain fails at soccer in the World Cup they get rid of the coach and start a worldwide search for his replacement. There would be a national, even an international, uproar if they just gave the job to the old coach’s child. They search because it matters, and they want the best person in the job.
“But when King Juan Carlos abdicates, after a bit of scandal, they turn to his son?”
He shook his head, but noted that the answer in Spain was what it would have been in Norway. European nations keep saying yes, turn to the kid.
Norwegian historian Finn Erhard Johannessen, from the University of Oslo, said supporting a royal family remained a source of pride in his nation but that there were limits.
“Norwegians like having a royal family,” he said. “But they don’t want them to act too royally.”
Polls indicate that about 4 of 5 Norwegians back the monarchy, though most of those essentially with a “why not?” instead of undying passion for the institution.
Johannessen said Norwegians thought their royals were nice people. Part of that is living like anyone else.
“People want the royal children to be in school with the children of immigrants,” he noted.
This isn’t the first, or the most serious, threat to royalty in this land of Viking plunder and dramatic fjords. King Fairhair couldn’t convince the woman he loved that he was worthy until he unified the place by conquering a network of small kingdoms about 1100 years ago. In 1814, fearing war with the “great powers of Europe” and already at war with Sweden, Norwegians adopted a constitutional monarchy and actually elected the king of Sweden as the king of Norway.
During World War II, King Haakon VII famously said “for my part I cannot accept” Nazi occupation, and he ended up in exile.
Every four years, Norway’s socialist party puts together a new proposal on doing away with the monarchy, and every four years the Storting Chamber (Norway’s Parliament) laughs it off and goes back to counting the nation’s oil and gas royalties.
This year, though, leading socialist Storting Chamber member Heikki Eidsvoll Holmas thinks that the proposal they’re putting together to submit next year might be different.
“Surely in my lifetime we will see an end to an inherited monarchy,” he predicted.